In a dramatic but predictable turn of events, Thanet District Council has voted to essentially allow the change of use of buildings on Manston Airport.
Tensions were raised going in to the meeting of the Planning Committee last night, because the Council had initially banned the Public and Press from the entire meeting, owing to a proposed secretive discussion on Agenda Item 7, regarding the Change of Use appeals for Manston Airport. After RiverOak’s lawyers wrote to TDC, the public were admitted, although they were still asked to leave the Chamber for the discussion.
Agenda item 7 is restricted as the information contained within it is exempt under paragraphs 3 and 5 of Part 1 to Schedule 12A to the Local Government Act 1972 (as amended). Whilst the Council will always try to keep exempt information to a minimum, in this case disclosure of the information contained within the report would certainly prejudice the Council’s case and increase the risk of costs being awarded against the Council in respect of the planning appeal to which the information relates.
Councillors at the planning meeting (pictured above) voted to reverse the decision to refuse planning permission for change of use, and also not to object to planning permission for the other three buildings.
Technically, this means that the buildings are not designated for aviation-use only. However, this vote does not overrule the role of the Planning Inspectorate, who are overseeing the original appeal against the refusal. A public inquiry is planned for January 2017.
Beau Webber, Chairman, said: “TDC Chief Legal Officer Tim Howes originally recommended excluding the public and press from the vital meeting on “Change of Use” on 4 crucial airside aircraft hangars /warehouses at Manston.
“Over last winter, Save Manston Airport association successfully, with the aid of pro-airport councillors at TDC, showed that these building were vital for Manston to remain a cargo airport, and had the change of use rejected.
“During this meeting Mr Howes proposed 3 options re how to proceed – option 1 exclude public and press from all the meeting; option 2, exclude press and public from just a key financial section of the meeting; option 3, have all the meeting open.
“Option 2 was chosen by the members. A white pages document was handed out, but there was of course no time to properly read and consider it, and prepare statements.
“So some discussion was in public, with a spirited defence of Manston as an airport by a number of Conservative councillors. Then the public and press were ejected.
“When we returned, a recorded vote was held, in which all the UKIP and Labour councillors voted for change of use of the Manston airside hangars /warehouses at Manston.”
North Thanet MP Sir Roger Gale voiced disgust at the decision and said it is time for Thanet council to be placed in special measures.
He said: “This grubby vote, designed to head off the planning inquiry due to be held in January, flew in the face of what the people voted for overwhelmingly at the council and general elections.
“Every major political party – and most certainly UKIP and its then parliamentary candidate and Leader Nigel Farage, together with Cllr Chris Wells -stood on a platform, promise to re-open Manston as an operating airport and last night’s decision, although not binding, has demonstrated the degree of contempt in which their party holds the electorate when in office.
“Nevertheless, little has changed and the battle to save Manston as an airport serving Kent and the nation continues.I am advised that RiverOak’s investment partners – those seeking to invest hundreds millions of pounds in Manston’s long-term future- remain as strong and as committed as ever and the process for securing a development consent order continues.
“Thanet cannot pursue its desire to smother this national asset in housing without a change to the local plan which will be the subject of a full public inquiry and which will be challenged every inch of the way. This is just another Battle for Britain that Manston has to win.”
Sir Roger added: “It is time for local government ministers to intervene and fully consider the possibility of special measures. Thanet is out of control.”